The top level domain (TLD) .sucks was recently approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The TLD operator, Vox Populi Registry, Ltd., claims that the .sucks domain is designed to enable consumers to find their voices and to facilitate consumer criticism. While .sucks domain strings may be used to send proactive and effective marketing messages (e.g. www.litter.sucks or www.bullying.sucks), brand owners may risk misuse and ridicule if the domain name [yourbrand] .sucks is registered by a third party.

ICANN’s approval of the .sucks domain name has been highly controversial and widely criticised. Under Vox Populi’s price structure, brand owners are charged hundreds of times more than average to register a .sucksdomain name during the sunrise period (discussed below). Many critics view the .sucks domain name as a money making scheme leveraging on brand owners’ concerns about misuse of their trade marks.

Interestingly, the President of the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN wrote a letter to the President of ICANN’s Global Domains Division voicing concerns with respect to Vox Populi’s pricing model regarding the .sucksdomain name.

Sunrise Phase (until 29 May 2015)

Prior to offering TLDs to the general public, TLD operators must provide a ‘sunrise period’ during which only brand owners whose trade marks are registered with ICANN’s Trade Marks Clearinghouse (TMCH) may apply to register a corresponding .sucks domain name.

The sunrise period for the .sucks domain expires on 29 May 2015. Vox Populi’s registration fees during the sunrise period start at US $2,499 per domain with an annual renewal fee of US $2,499.

General Availability Phase (after 1 June 2015)

From 1 June 2015, Vox Populi’s charges for registering ‘standard’ .sucks domain names will be US $249 per domain with an annual renewal fee of US $249.

Brand owners wishing to roll the dice and register a .sucks domain name for their brand after 1 June 2015 should be aware of the risk that another consumer may apply first as the domains are available on a first come, first served basis during this phase.

Vox Populi has also generated an undisclosed list of ‘premium’ domains available during both the sunrise and general availability period. The names on the list are described as having high market value which many suggest is code for well-known trade marks. Registration fees for most premium domains are individually priced while registration fees for ‘market premium names’ start at US $2,499.

It will also be possible to ‘block’ the use of a .sucks domain during the general availability phase for US $199 per year (renewed automatically). During this phase, anyone will have the ability to place any domain available as a ‘standard’ .sucks domain on a reserved list. Blocks will be available on a first come, first served basis and are not available on ‘premium’ names.

Consumer Advocate Subsidy Phase (after 1 September 2015)

According to Vox Populi’s website, the operator will offer a consumer advocate subsidy program which is intended to allow consumers to register non-standard and non-premium .sucks domains for under US $10. All .sucksdomain names purchased under this program will be redirected to www.everything.sucks, a consumer advocacy website that hosts free consumer forums. If a .sucks domain name is purchased through the program, the buyer will only be able to operate the website as a discussion forum hosted by www.everything.sucks.

Brand Protection

Despite the high sunrise period registration fees, Vox Populi claims that ‘over 5 million’ registrants have reportedly registered .sucks domain strings during the sunrise period including Lonely Plant, Hersheys, Gumtree, Apple and Kevin Spacey.

While the consequences of not registering a .sucks domain may become more costly than the registration fees, each company will need to consider the best approach to protecting its brand. Brand owners should be aware that they can still rely on ICANN’s existing brand protection and enforcement mechanisms including filing an application under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy to revoke registrations filed by third party infringers. In general, filing and prosecuting complaints of this nature can be a time consuming and expensive procedure.